What is college like for gender minority students?

Posted on: 03 December 2019

A new report that puts the college experience of gender minority students in the spotlight underlines some important positives regarding acceptance, but also identifies some areas for improvement. The report’s authors hope some of the key findings will be useful in informing related policy.

The report, entitled Understanding the Lived Experiences of Gender Minority Students in Irish Third-Level Education, was compiled byresearchers from Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin in partnership with TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland), the NXF (National LGBT Federation), the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Unit, and the Trinity Equality Fund.

The report is based on over 100 survey responses that were collected from transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students in Irish higher education programmes this past summer.

The survey aimed to capture much-needed data regarding demographics, everyday experiences, obstacles, sources of support and resilience, and the effectiveness of current policies across 55 questions.

The project was led by Drs C.C. Chevallier, Susan Murphy, and Conor Buggy from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences.

Dr Chevallier said:

We’re very grateful to the respondents and those that supported this project. The quantitative and qualitative data that has been recorded will be used to refine gender policies, support the missions of NGOs such as TENI and the NXF, and advocate for several key reforms within higher education and wider Irish society.

My research partners and I will continuously advocate for the recommendations that we’ve put forth. Everyone has the right to flourish during their educational experience.

Sarah Fink, Acting Head of RCSI’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit, added:

“If third-level institutions are to be truly inclusive, we need to understand the experiences of all our students. This report begins to shed light on the challenges facing gender minority students. We are committed to ensuring that everyone in RCSI is treated fairly, ensuring all students can learn in an environment defined by respect and dignity.”

Some of the key findings were:

  • The community’s identities were diverse and multifaceted, with many respondents identifying outside of a male or female binary
  • Responses regarding acceptance by staff, students, and teachers reflect a variety of experiences, but were on average slightly positive. However, community members reported high rates of inappropriate questions, verbal insults, and sexually inappropriate comments/catcalling
  • Respondents generally had a strong preference for gender-neutral restrooms and changing facilities. However, due to limited access to these spaces, 35.6% of respondents reported excessive delays between using restrooms, 59.3% reported using bathrooms where they felt uncomfortable, and 22.9% reported using a gender-neutral bathroom that was not clean or sanitary
  • Limited recognition of gender identities outside of the binary and incomprehensive gender policies can manifest in disruptive administrative issues for large segments of the community
  • Mental health/medical issues were the leading off-campus obstacles for students, followed by familial and financial issues

Gordon Grehan, Operations Manager of TENI, said:

“In TENI we know, all too well, the significant barriers trans people face when accessing higher education and we believe that the findings of this important research will offer valuable insights into how we can improve this situation and make higher education institutions more accessible so that everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression, has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

The full report is available to read here.

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Media Relations Officer | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685